Fred’s Head from APH, a Blindness Blog

Fred’s Head, offered by the American Printing House for the Blind, contains tips, techniques, tutorials, in-depth articles, and resources for and by blind or visually impaired people. Our blog is named after the legendary Fred Gissoni, renowned for answering a seemingly infinite variety of questions on every aspect of blindness.

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Monday, April 24, 2017

Braille in the Modern Age (Article)

A portion of this article appears in the April 2017 APH News. We included it here because its author, APH's Director of Technology Product Research Larry Skutchan, delineates the usefulness and importance of braille today. Whether one uses hard copy braille, refreshable braille, or electronic braille, this article is sure to remind us of the continuing value of it while describing the unbreakable link between the use of braille and true literacy for students who are blind, visually impaired, or deafblind.
Braille in the Modern Age
A few times each year, articles or shows are published rationalizing how braille is no longer relevant, questioning its usefulness, or misrepresenting statistics. In this modern age, it seems like there must be something better. 
Without usable vision, information must get to the brain through one of the four remaining senses. Touch and audio are the ones most relevant to literacy. A look at the facts helps explain why tactile instruction will never die out. 
Before braille existed, there were numerous attempts to find a method of reading for blind people. The Museum of the American Printing House for the Blind includes a collection of interesting solutions. Until the system of punching dots in a pattern, however, those methods were difficult to produce, and more importantly, did not provide a way to write. With a simple slate and stylus, available for a few dollars, you can punch the braille patterns for the words from the back. The fact that you must write the letters backwards, and right to left, along with the difficulty of reading what you just wrote (with the current line enclosed in the slate) led to innovations such as the more efficient braillewriter. Unfortunately, the braillewriter seems to symbolize obsolescence itself in the media's eye. In reality, while it does not look very sleek or modern, the braillewriter serves as the equivalent of a pencil, and along with the slate and stylus, still provides the only way to write without requiring some kind of powered device. 
Using braille to label folders or papers provides a way to identify that material for years to come, without the need for additional equipment, something you cannot say for audio alternatives. Additionally, the equipment itself tends to become outdated or unusable quite quickly. A case in point is cassette tapes. As recently as 20 years ago, this was an audio alternative that was easy for anyone to reproduce. Now, they are a thing of the past. Sure, you can use barcode stickers as labels, but you still need a device to read those barcodes. Will there be a compatible barcode reader in 50 years? Will the format of the barcode remain the same? Who knows? Nevertheless, we do know that Braille will still be readable. 
Of course, braille came before audio recordings and synthetic speech, but those options do not take literacy into consideration. Using only audio, a child learning to read and write will not be able to explain how the words to, too, and two are used. Serial and cereal, meat and meet mean nothing for learners that rely solely on audio to learn. Moreover, it’s not just the homonyms that present problems—any kind of unusual, or even common, spellings are nearly impossible when your only means of absorbing information is auditory. 
Many people with normal hearing acknowledge that sound plays an important role in their lives; and some may even occasionally enjoy an audio book during the commute to and from work. But none would agree that it can replace the printed word, especially in regards to education. 
Literate adults, who lose their sight later in life, have the luxury of electing not too learn braille, but many do anyway—even for limited use such as braille labels and signage. 
Raising a child without literacy is not an option in today's economy. Illiteracy condemns one to a life of dependence. Ask the parent of a sighted child if they would consider removing print from their child's education in favor of audio, and you will see a reaction that only emphasizes the relationship between braille, print, and literacy. 
Literacy means much more than spelling alone. Punctuation, format, conjugation, etymology, and relationships, just to name a few, require something more than auditory means alone. The limitations of audio are apparent when you try to describe something as simple as the shape of a circle. Imagine attempting to convey some of the more complex concepts in the STEM subjects. 
High quality braille textbooks and tactile graphics provide students who are intellectually and physically capable of tactual reading an educational experience roughly equivalent to the written word. They contain many of the characteristics found in printed text and format. And, they represent the only means of literacy for a child with little or no usable vision. 
As with printed textbooks, braille textbooks are mostly produced in physical, embossed format. Likewise, as the print industry moves toward electronic delivery of content, braille distribution gradually shifts in that direction as well. Young children enjoy the rich experience of holding a braille or print-braille book as much as anyone. 
Refreshable braille displays are electronic devices that show a short line of braille characters comprised of pins that raise and lower for the pattern of the text included in that small view. They commonly show from 20 to 40 characters at a time. When used in conjunction with access software (for many devices), they display content from the screen of a computer or portable device. Refreshable braille allows multiple hardcopy volumes to be transported onto one small device. 
Thanks to standards like HTML5 and universal design concepts, access software, such as VoiceOver on the iPhone, can deliver that content in meaningful ways, in this case speech and braille. The only additional burden on the blind consumer is the cost of the refreshable braille display; the audio (speech synthesis) is free. 
Orbit Reader 20 represents a pivotal break in the cost of refreshable braille displays. However, despite the unrealized possibilities of past decades, there is still no practical way to display graphics or more than one line of braille at a time on an electronic braille device. This is one reason embossed textbooks remain the predominate distribution method of braille, especially for complex content. 
Fortunately, the industry is not sitting idle awaiting the arrival of electronic reproduction devices that show multiple lines and graphics. Skilled transcribers employ digital tools to translate, format, and draw tactile equivalents; and high-speed embossers and complex-drawing reproduction equipment are used to produce the textbooks. 
Research projects like BrailleBlaster, a desktop publishing system for braille, and Graphiti, a tactile graphics device, along with standards like EPUB, SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics), and universal design, signify less resistance to the process of creating the tactile version of a textbook. 
Some of the most important advancements, in regards to converting text to braille, come from standards bodies such as the Braille Authority of North America (BANA), the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF), and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). These organizations research and create standards that developers can use to create software that reliably interprets electronic text and graphics. As these tools, standards, and techniques evolved over the past few decades, the dream of educational content becoming accessible is closer to a reality. 
Interestingly, one of the most difficult accessibility barriers to braille transcription continues to be the education of authors. The tools exist to translate the text into contracted braille, but the software to determine if the information makes sense without vision does not. For example, an early childhood textbook displays two lines, one red and one blue, requesting the student to decide if the blue line or the red line is longer. The tactile rendition must substitute patterns for the colors, and then insert a tactile graphic to match those patterns. A transcriber might change the sentence to ask about the solid or dotted line, and then draw the two lines with the correct patterns. This is one of the simplest examples possible to illustrate the issue. 
Given the recognition of importance of braille in the education of children with visual impairments, it is a wonder how braille continues to be so misrepresented. As with anything involving a number of factors, the answer is complicated. 
The first factor to understand is the categorization of blindness. Degrees of blindness vary widely. While there are many who maintain enough vision to travel without additional aids, or to read print with proper equipment and conditions, there are others whose vision will never support independent reading or whose vision is declining at such a rate for which braille proves to be more effective than print. 
Age and health are additional factors to consider as to the feasibility of learning braille. A child does not have a choice—he or she must learn braille to be literate. Adults who cannot develop the necessary tactile responses also do not have a choice, because they are unable to perceive braille. For those who fall between these extremes, the choice is less clear and depends largely on the progression of the eye condition, the ambitions and goals of the individual, and their age. 
Adults already literate when sight becomes inefficient may choose to forego developing the tactile sensitivity and understanding of the contractions and codes for braille. The child learning to read and write does not have this choice. And, while it is tempting to choose the path of least resistance—in this case audio—this is not what’s best for the kids. Parents know their children are just as capable as any child of learning to read and write. They want their children to lead independent, literate, and fulfilling lives, despite their visual impairments. Braille instruction is still the only way to do it.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Throwback Thursday Object: Braille Knitting Counter

A friend of mine was knitting at a concert a few weeks ago while she listened, and I thought of this clever little device.  I’ll admit that I am not exactly sure how it works, as I am not a knitter, but I think I understand the principle.  Simply put, losing track of where you are in a pattern is bad!   This “knitting clock” is used for counting rows as you knit. Sighted people might use a pencil and paper, or a mechanical counter.  It was adapted and sold by the Royal National Institute for the Blind in England, sometime after 1953. It consists of a square aluminum plate with black plastic pointers on both sides, fixed at the center. The side with the longer pointer is brailled with the numbers 6, 12, 18, and 24 in a clockwise pattern beginning at center right. There are 5 single dots between each number. The side with the shorter pointer has three evenly spaced inch marks along the top edge, in the form of notches. Numbers 25, 50, 75, 100, and 125 are brailled around the pointer. Photo caption: Aluminum and plastic knitting counter.
Micheal A. Hudson
Museum Director
American Printing House for the Blind

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Throwback Thursday Object: Playing Card Slate

Our object this week is humble enough, a piece of nickel-plated brass folded in half with seven windows at top and bottom.  Small cutouts on both sides make it easy to get cards in and out.  It was used to emboss braille by hand on a set of playing cards.  The Howe Memorial Press at the Perkins School in Watertown, Massachusetts introduced it as the “Model 16” slate as early as 1927 (but probably earlier, that just happens to be the earliest catalog I’ve seen). You could buy a deck of pre-brailled playing cards from Perkins in 1927 for $1.00.  Or you could buy this little beauty for 50¢ and braille your own.  Here is an interesting link I found to an 1879 article in a British magazine explaining how to mark a set of cards using an alternative dot code.  By the way, you can still buy a playing card slate from Perkins Products! Photo caption:  Playing Card Slate, 3.5 x 2.5 inches
Micheal A. Hudson
Museum Director
American Printing House for the Blind

April 2017 APH News

This month we focus on partnerships. Our Braille Tales program developed from a partnership with the Dolly Parton Imagination Library.

A Few of This Month’s Headlines:

Partnerships: Vital to Providing Products and Services
  • NEW! Talking Typer™ (for iOS devices)
  • NEW! Woodcock-Johnson® IV Adapted for Large Print Readers
  • NEW! Spinner Overlays for the Light Box
  • NEW! APH InSights Art Calendar: 2018
  • Field Tests and Surveys
  • At Home, Abroad—Partnerships Yield a Harvest of Books
  • Braille in the Modern Age
  • STEM Corner: Tactile Anatomy Atlas and the DNA RNA Kit
  • Planning Meeting for UEB Research
  • NIMAC Version 3 Launched with New Features
  • Social Media Spotlight
  • APH Travel Calendar and more…

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Throwback Thursday Object: Mold for a 12” Tactile Globe

Our object this week pulls back the curtain a bit on APH manufacturing processes.  It is the mold for the tactile globe we introduced in 1986.  APH has a long history with tactile maps.  Our first maps in the 19th century were hand carved from wood, but in the 1930s we began casting them in early plastics.  APH began manufacturing 12" globes in 1959.  Originally, the tabletop globes rested in a wooden cradle, but this model was designed for an aluminum stand.  The plastic parts of this globe were manufactured, painted, and assembled right here in Louisville.  The aluminum parts were purchased from the G.F. Cram Company, a major globe maker in Chicago.   This mold—a work of art in itself--was designed and fabricated in the APH model shop by master model maker Tom Poppe, circa 1985. The first photo: Epoxy mold for the 12” relief globe, two recessed hemispheres inside a red frame. The second photo: A finished 12” relief globe on its stand, water is light blue and the land is yellow with brown highlights.
Micheal A. Hudson
Museum Director
American Printing House for the Blind

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Throwback Thursday Object: Clarke & Smith Model 2048 “Tapette” Talking Book Machine

John Clarke and Alec Smith founded a radio repair company after WWII in Surrey, England.  They developed an early cassette based talking book machine in the 1950s.  Their half inch metal cassette was bulky and heavy and the player weighed over six pounds even without it!  But the idea was innovative and one step on the road to the modern cassette form of the 1970s.   The Royal National Institute for the Blind announced in 1960 that its talking book program would switch over from vinyl disk to the C&S cassette.  This machine, using a lighter, smaller plastic version of the C&S cassette was introduced in 1967.  These were used in Britain and the Commonwealth but never in the U.S. (We have included two photos. First photo caption:
The green plastic “Tapette” was 6 x 9 x 10” and had its simple controls on top. Caption for second photo: Black plastic “Tapette” cartridge and a black vinyl mailing pouch.)
Micheal A. Hudson
Museum Director
American Printing House for the Blind

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Throwback Thursday Object: Rare Talking Book

Gulliver’s Travels
Our object this week is a recent find, and very significant.  In February 1936, APH installed a model recording studio in a small room in its already overcrowded building and began experimenting with a new idea:  the Talking Book.  The braille presses were humming, but American Foundation for the Blind President Robert Irwin had convinced the APH leadership that recorded books were the next big thing.  That year, APH recorded five books and the first, narrated by Louisville radio pioneer Hugh Sutton, was the Jonathan Swift classic “Gulliver’s Travels.”  Last autumn, an electrician in Colorado Springs named Michael Lucas got in touch with our museum.  He had fourteen vintage Talking Books from the earliest days of the program, and among them was a copy of Gulliver.  APH only pressed about 100 sets of that first book.  When Talking Book libraries began to convert from phonograph records to cassettes, most of these early records were destroyed or discarded.  This might very well be the only surviving copy of Gulliver.  We are very much looking forward to hearing Hugh Sutton, our first narrator, read again, so look forward to hearing it soon in this spot! (The photo shows a closeup of the record label).

Micheal A. Hudson
Museum Director
American Printing House for the Blind

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Throwback Thursday Object: The Musicwriter

Did you know that March is Music in Our Schools Month?  Our very unusual object this week is the Musicwriter, a patent electric typewriter whose key set was altered to type the full range of musical symbols.  It was invented by the prolific American composer Cecil Effinger in Colorado Springs in 1954, originally to type up musical scores.  The company he founded to manufacture it lasted more than thirty years.  Effinger, interestingly enough, taught instrumental music at the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind for a few years in the late 1930s.  At APH, his invention was used to prepare proofreading copies of music in print as they were being translated into braille.  Braille sheet music used to be a major line at APH and our vaults are still filled with the stereotype plates used to emboss the music. (The photo shows the Musicwriter, and we include this information caption: The Musicwriter was a heavy gray aluminum machine, shoehorned into the case of an Olympia typewriter, but with a large cable to allow it to be connected to a computer.
Micheal A. Hudson
Museum Director
American Printing House for the Blind

Monday, March 13, 2017

Alexa, "Open March Madness"! Play the Accessible Bracket Game, and Get All Your March Madness Information!


If you’re anything like me, you find yourself caught up in the phenomenon aptly termed “March Madness.” Even the most casual college basketball fan can find something to interest them as it relates to March Madness—a local school who succeeds in the tournament, a small school who defeats bigger schools and advances, or the inspirational story of a player who has overcome adversity to make an impact on the tournament.

Filling Out an Accessible Bracket

Regardless of your level of tournament knowledge or interest, we provide you links for participating in an accessible bracket contest and for listening to or watching the games. If you have tried to play bracket contests in the past, you are keenly aware that many of them lack accessibility. There are too many available contests to test for accessibility, and interfaces change seemingly from year to year; however, we know that there is one specially created bracket contest, the goal of which is to provide a fully accessible bracket for screen readers. To participate, go to to get all of the information and to fill out a bracket.

Understand that going to the link shows you the bracket; you must click on the “pool” link to sign up, play the game, and create a potentially winning bracket. Also on this site are links for schedules, scores and live broadcasts from Westwood One Radio.

Terrill Thompson, who sets up this bracket, also runs an accessible sports list which you can subscribe to by filling out the form at Note that once you fill out the form, you must wait for moderator approval before you are subscribed.

Checking Out the Games

So how can we watch or listen to the games. The most comprehensive site is which contains schedule information, details on which television channel broadcasts each game, links to the March Madness Live app which provides radio and television broadcasts and a bracket game, and much more information. The games in the “First Four” round all are on TruTV; the remaining tournament games appear on CBS, TBS, TNT and TruTV. Therefore, if you have all of these channels, you may flip from game to game on your television without being locked into watching a blowout simply because your CBS affiliate chose to show a particular game. You also may choose to stream the TV telecasts at

Listening to the Games

If you want just radio broadcasts, the best site is which will allow you to listen to every game including the First Four. You may also be able to replay games you missed, and game highlights and recaps certainly are available. Westwood One offers five channels; one is the national Westwood One broadcast which highlights one particular game and moves back and forth among the remaining action. If you listen on a “regular” radio and not using SiriusXM or the TuneIn app, you will hear this channel. If the game you care about most is not featured, you can hear it on the Westwood One site for free on one of the other four channels, one for each tournament region, or you can listen on SiriusXM Satellite Radio if you are a subscriber.

Finally, if you wish to listen to the games on your Smartphone, of course, you can use the SiriusXM app if you are a subscriber; however, the app that works best and usually is accessible enough, even if it is a bit confusing at first glance, is the TuneIn radio app. The quickest way to locate it is to search for TuneIn on your app store of choice; however, for more information, go to to read more information or download the app. Please note that TuneIn has a free version, a paid version that removes ads, and a premium version which offers a monthly subscription for listening to audio books, NFL and MLB broadcasts. You may select any of these options based on your particular taste, but please note that the free version is all that is necessary to listen to the NCAA tournament games.

All Information in One Place

Tournament coverage increases annually with games becoming available on more platforms each year. The most comprehensive roundup of every way to view tournament games in 2017 is found at which details how to watch games, listen to games, view highlights, play the official bracket game, download the March Madness Live App, and more. If you are uncertain about where to go to find information, go to this site as it links to anything and everything else you may wish to locate

Please note that we have not tested the app, the bracket game, or the methods for watching the games for accessibility. You may wish to do so at your convenience. We can say, however, that with all the partnerships mentioned on this page, individuals can access NCAA tournament games on 15 platforms, including Amazon Alexa Devices and Xbox for the first time. There also is a new interactive bracket via Apple TV. Additionally, Turner’s iStreamPlanet will handle live streaming infrastructure for all games made available through NCAA March Madness Live which is supposed to enhance the quality of the live stream. The site also boasts many other changes and upgrades. One which may especially interest people who are blind and visually impaired is the new March Madness Alexa skill which will allow fans to ask “March Madness” questions concerning scores and results and also provides direct access to the Westwood One play-by-play feeds. To interact with March Madness content using Alexa, download the March Madness skill and say, “Alexa, Open March Madness.”

The aforementioned site provides much greater detail about all of the options for viewing and listening to the games; check out and enjoy the Madness!

You may wish to try several bracket games and check for accessibility either on the website or the accompanying app. No matter how many contests you enter, please consider supporting the accessible bracket site,

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Throwback Thursday Object: Sculpture of a Clenched Fist from the Father Thomas Carroll Collection

Sculpture of a Clenched Fist
Our object this week comes from our Father Thomas Carroll Collection.  Robert "Bob" Amendola (1909-1996) was an artist working as an engineering illustrator at an aircraft plant in the 1940s when he was “borrowed” by Father Carroll to help blinded veterans develop their sense of spatial awareness. After the war, Amendola joined Carroll at the Catholic Guild for the Blind in Boston and developed a course of spatial orientation and sound localization that he called "videation."  His work impacted thousands of trainees over four decades.  According to the Carroll Center website, "Amendola continued his work as an artist... completing many commissioned sculptures, notably the Stations of the Cross in the Chapel of St. Thomas Moore at Yale University and the statue of George Washington Carver as a boy at his Diamond, Missouri birthplace, now a national monument."  This clenched fist is a plaster casting, painted dark bronze.

Micheal A. Hudson
Museum Director
American Printing House for the Blind

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Throwback Thursday: A Look Back at Susan Merwin and Her Contributions to APH

Who is Susan Merwin? This informative piece provides a look at this influential woman who played an important role in the growth of APH.
Our object this week celebrates Women’s History Month.  Susan Merwin (1874-1923) was only the second woman to head an American school for the blind when she became Superintendent of the Kentucky School for the Blind in 1912.  And she became the only woman to head APH when she took over our reins from B.B. Huntoon in 1919.  In truth, though, Merwin had been running APH for years as Huntoon’s assistant while he suffered from various ailments.  Her work in Washington DC in July of 1919 while still assistant superintendent was critical.  She testified before the House Committee on Education and Labor, leading to the first increase in the federal appropriation to APH in forty years.  After becoming superintendent, she lead a series of initiatives to modernize equipment, remodel the building’s interior and exterior, and accelerate the transition at APH to the production of braille.  Her death in 1923 from influenza cut short a brilliant career.  In her official portrait, (included here) shot in 1916, she wears a white dress, a gold pendant around her neck, and her dark hair is pulled back.  She stands at an angle, holding a spelling book half open, and looks slightly off camera.
Micheal A. Hudson
Museum Director
American Printing House for the Blind

Friday, February 24, 2017

NEW! Amazon's Disability Customer Service Line!


Within the past year, we posted about Apple's Accessibility Hotline and Microsoft's Accessibility Answer Desk. Earlier in 2017, I discovered a new accessibility resource, seemingly by accident.

I wanted to work to improve my skills with Safari on a Mac and decided that working with a familiar site would be beneficial. I pulled up and heard something quite unusual.

If you use the Amazon site on a computer, you probably know about the screen reader optimized site and have already read the message that says, in part, “We have recently updated the screen reader optimized website to include headings, landmarks, and new shopping features to improve your experience. Please follow this link …”. When I pulled up Amazon’s site on this particular evening using VoiceOver, I read a different message, a new link located right after the “Help” link if you are not signed in and right after the “My account” link if you are.

Disability Customer Support Line

What was this new link? It reads: “Click to call our Disability Customer Support Line, or reach us directly at 1-888-283-1678. Immediately I checked Amazon with my Windows PC running JAWS for Windows and received the same message. After calling Amazon’s regular customer service line, I discovered that typically sighted individuals did not see this message; Amazon’s site detected that I was using a screen reader and, as a result, displayed this message and link.

Purpose of the Disability Line

My next task, of course, was to find out what this line’s purpose was, what the agents could and could not do, etc. Thanks to Amazon’s Public Relations department who gathered information from the Accessibility Team, we know the following basic information about the line:

In January, Amazon launched a dedicated customer service line for customers with disabilities. The hours of operation are 3:00am - 10pm PST, 7 days a week, and the dedicated agents can be reached by either following the click-to-call link on the Desktop site or by calling 1-888-283-1678. The agents have been trained in screen reader basics and can help support (or escalate, if needed) technical issues. Agents can also help customers find products, add items to a customer’s shopping cart and support the check-out process. Agents are not able to place orders on behalf of the customers.

I inquired as to whether or not agents could assist with things like setting up a new Kindle or Echo for a customer who is blind and visually impaired. While the line is not set up specifically to do this, these agents may be able to answer basic questions about these devices. If the question is too technical in nature, the agent will transfer you to the specific department for that device.

What Happens When I Call?

The start of the process is exactly like the process you would encounter if you called Amazon’s typical customer service; you provide your name, email, and sometimes your mailing address to verify your account. With this information, agents can confirm details about your account, check the status of an order, assist with returning an item, etc. In short, the disability line works with you to accomplish all tasks the typical line’s agents can do while working with you to resolve problems you may have as a screen reader user.

For instance, you want to purchase shampoo. You know what you want but cannot tell which item is the correct one. The description may be unclear and may not describe the amount of shampoo in the bottle, how many bottles you are purchasing, etc.

Perhaps you are looking at an article of clothing, but you are having problems choosing the correct size and color. Maybe you want to buy an appliance and find it problematic to compare similar items. As is typical with many websites, the interface changes, sometimes causing you to be unable to find the “Add to cart” button. In each of these instances, the dedicated disability customer service line is quite useful. Once you determine which item(s) you want to buy, the agent can add them to your cart. Then, at your convenience, you can return to the site or pull up the app and complete the transaction. If you purchase an Amazon device, agents, themselves may be able to help you set it up, show you how to turn on accessibility features, or answer basic questions about the device. If they cannot do this, they will route you to the department corresponding to the correct device so you can get your problems solved and questions answered.


As we said, agents cannot place orders for you. They can explain to you how to make the purchase but cannot hit the “Place Order Button” for you. You only find the link explaining the line when on the desktop site on a computer. Users of the app or anyone navigating the site on a phone or tablet will not find the link. Agents can, however, explain features of the app and assist you in navigating it. You may, in fact, take advantage of the disability services line no matter how you access Amazon’s site.

Also, as is true of typical customer service agents, they may not be able to answer all questions about Amazon devices; an agent may have to transfer you to the department that specializes in a particular device for you to get an answer to your question.

We trust that this information will assist you.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Throwback Thursday Object: The Taylor Arithmetic Slate

Recently one of our followers on Twitter asked us about the Taylor Slate so we decided to feature it in this column. The first photo shows the slate, itself, with this description: “The aluminum Taylor Slate has an 18 x 24 grid of star-shaped holes and a tray to hold types.” The second photo shows a key to represent how rotating the types lets you represent all ten digits and the operatives. The full description is below. The description from Museum Director Micheal Hudson is below.
The Reverend William Taylor became superintendent of the Yorkshire School for the Blind in England in 1836.  While at the school he developed his "Ciphering Tablet,” and the design was eventually used in schools around the world.  A metal board is pierced by rows of star-shaped octagonal holes.  The board came with a stack of metal “types,” basically small rectangles with two raised pins on one side and a raised bar on the other.  By rotating the types in the octagonal holes, each type could assume enough different shapes to represent all the numbers and the operator symbols.  Other inventors had developed boards that used types with raised numbers on top.  Since each piece of Taylor’s type could be used to represent all ten numbers and the operatives, there was less time wasted searching for a particular number.  APH introduced its own Taylor Slate in 1938/1939, made from stainless steel. By 1953, the type was available in both lead and plastic.  The product was discontinued by 1972.  BUT…  you can still buy one, amazingly enough.  A company in India, Advance Engineering makes a lot of the older devices for the third world market.
Micheal A. Hudson
Museum Director
American Printing House for the Blind

Friday, February 17, 2017

Retail Savings Guide for People with Disabilities from


Countless websites and newsletters provide online coupons and promo codes for saving money at stores and websites. One of these sites is You may browse the site at your leisure. We mention CouponChief, however, because one of its employees sent us a Retail Savings Guide for People with Disabilities which it recently developed. The site already produced savings guides for women, veterans, and seniors.

The savings guide for people with disabilities is general in scope and is not tailored to people who are blind or to any other particular group. That being said, people who are blind and visually impaired certainly may benefit from the guide.

What is Covered?

The guide is broken down into the following sections:

·         Financial Hardship statistics

·         Organizations that Help People with a Disability Get Discounts and Special Pricing

·         Discounts and Special Offers Available to Those with Disabilities

·         Free Assistive Technology

·         Caregivers, Health Care, and Financial Assistance

·         Educational Assistance

·         Legal Help/Pro Bono Work

·         Tax Assistance

·         Transportation Discounts and Services

·         Utility Discounts

How Do I Use the Guide?

You may navigate the guide by searching for the section you wish to browse or by key words if you know exactly what you are hoping to find. You also can use the h-key to move from heading to heading using a screen reader. Doing this moves you from section to section in succession.

What is Contained in Each Section?

Each section of this guide includes links and descriptions of websites, providing basic information as to what each site does. In several instances, the guide points you to a national resource which breaks the information down by state. The savings guide, then, provides the starting place for your review of potential discounts and savings opportunities. Often you will have to enter a given site and research it carefully to find the information that interests or is relevant to you individually.


While the main CouponChief site concentrates on coupons anyone can use, this guide and the ones created previously seek to assist particular groups of individuals. The CouponChief staff is quick to point out that they assembled this guide not to make anyone feel “less than …”. Rather, since they are a site promoting savings, they offer the guide in the hope that people with disabilities can take advantage of additional savings whenever possible. Perhaps the most important advice the CouponChief team relates is this: JUST ASK! Stores and retailors may offer discounts but may choose not to mention them so as not to offend anyone; nevertheless, if you ask for a possible discount, you may get it. We hope that something in this guide helps you save some money. Whether you save a little or a lot, who doesn’t want extra money in their pocket! Check out the guide at

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Throwback Thursday Object: Large Type Printing Press

If you have trouble seeing well enough to perform daily tasks, even with glasses or after surgery, then you have low vision.  February is Low Vision Awareness Month.  We dug a photograph out of a scrapbook of newspaper clippings that we’ve been working on to recognize the event.  This is a shot from January 1971 showing a line of Davidson 600 offset printing presses.  Legendary APH production chief Virgil Zickel stands at far right beside Howard Oliver and a salesman, Frank Gatchel.  The operator on the front machine—APH had six of these models at the time—is Roy Carroll.  APH started manufacturing textbooks in large type for low vision students in 1947.  By the 1970s we had rows and rows of offset presses from Davidson, Miehle-Goss-Dexter, and A.B. Dick.  If you want to learn how the offset printing process worked, look here.  In the 1980s, we started experimenting with photocopiers from Minolta, and today our entire production of about eleven million pages of large type comes off only two very sophisticated machines, Xerox iGens.
Micheal A. Hudson
Museum Director
American Printing House for the Blind

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Quick Tip: Sensory Learning Kit. The Sensory Learning Kit is an extensive set of sensory items and written materials that help the most significantly challenged learners increase their curiosity and, in turn, develop specific skills related to basic communication.

February, 2017 APH News ready to viewe

A Few of This Month’s Headlines:

  • STEM Corner
  • New Products: Echolocation and FlashSonar and VisioBook Carrying Bag; Revised: Push Button Padlock
  • Audio and Video 2016 Annual Meeting Sessions
  • Enter Now! 2017 APH InSights Art Competition
  • Treasure from the Migel: Samuel Gridley Howe Address to Trustees of the New England Institution for the Education of the Blind
  • APH Voted in the Top Ten Technology Stories of 2016
  • Social Media Spotlight: Are You Following APH on Twitter?
  • APH Travel Calendar and more…

Friday, February 03, 2017

How to Help a Loved One with a Vision Impairment set Up a Safe Home

The following article was sent to us by someone who made adjustments to her home to accommodate a relative with low vision who moved into the home. We will include a bit of background information provided by the author, her article, and three resources she mentions in it. You may add comments offering other suggestions if you wish. The specific accommodations will vary depending on the type and size of the home; nevertheless, this article provides a detailed description of what one family did to modify aspects of their home to assist a visually impaired relative who came to stay in that home. Here is her information and story.
My name is Jackie Waters, and I am a mother of four beautiful and energetic boys. I live with my family on our three acre hobby farm in Oregon. 
My husband’s sister, who has been visually impaired since childhood, recently came to live with us. While we were excited to welcome her to our home, we knew our old farmhouse presented a lot of potential obstacles and hazards for her. So, my husband got to work tackling home repair projects, and I got to work organizing and rearranging to make our home more accessible for her and her guide dog.

How To Help A Loved One With A Vision Impairment Set Up A Safe Home

living-room-1952072_640 (1).jpg

Photo via Jill111
Our homes are a place of comfort and safety -  the place we go at the end of the day to relax and spend time with family. But for individuals living with a vision impairment, home can also be a hazardous place full of hidden dangers. If you have a loved one who is experiencing vision loss, it’s important to talk to them about what their specific needs are and help them modify their home to be more accommodating and safe for the coming years.
There are many things to think about, so start with the big ideas and work down to prevent being overwhelmed. For instance, changing lighting and furniture placement is key and will take some planning with your loved one. Figure out their regular paths through the home and help them determine where items would be the most useful.
Here are some other ways you can help your loved one with a vision impairment.
Organize the kitchen
The kitchen is one of the most dangerous places in the home, so it’s important to keep things well organized and brightly-lit. Pots and pans, utensils, and dishes that are used most often should be kept near one another. Pantries and cupboards should be neatly organized, with like items on the same shelves.
A fire extinguisher should be kept near the stove at all times, with stove knobs marked in brightly colored tape to minimize confusion. Cleaning products and bug spray should be kept well away from food items.
Prevent falls
Hardwood floors should be treated with a non-slip wax, while throw rugs should be eliminated altogether as they’re trip hazards. Stairs should be marked with brightly colored tape and should also be well-lit to take care of shadows and prevent falls.
Depending on the type of lighting in the home, glares can be created on flooring and other surfaces, which can cause disorientation or falls. To minimize this risk, curtains can be replaced by mini-blinds. It’s also important to make sure that the locks work properly on all windows and that the window itself is properly installed to prevent the leakage of hot or cold air.
Painting the walls a dark color to contrast with the white sink and toilet can be very helpful for those living with visual impairment. Non-slip mats should be placed on the floor and in the tub, as well as a removable shower head and grab bar. It might also be helpful to install a landline phone in the bathroom in case of emergency.
Service dog
If your loved one lives alone or is very independent, it can be extremely helpful to have a service dog, especially for trips outside the home. Much more than pets, these animals are useful companions who can help navigate through a busy intersection or the grocery store, giving those living with a visual impairment more mobility.
About the photo
The photo shows the image of a living room taken from the inside of the house. Imagine yourself standing at the center of the living room, facing a round center table proportionate to the size of the 5-seater sofa. The aisles are clear for passage, but take a step too far out on either side and you will be faced with a padded armchair, a side table with a glass vase filled with flowers and a lamp. The passageways meet at the end, where you will be faced with wooden doors with glass tiles that swing inward.
Here are the resources that Jackie included in the article:


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